How the Buxton and Semien moves affect the Royals and AL Central

It’s been a busy “hot stove” day, as two major moves were announced today. First, news broke that the Minnesota Twins and Byron Buxton agreed on a seven-year, $100 million extension. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal went into more details on the deal on Twitter:

This was a huge move for the Twins, as it seemed like Buxton was going to leave the Twin Cities this offseason after he turned down a “reported” $80-million extension this summer. With Buxton back, the Twins have a nice foundation for a bounce-back season in 2022, especially if Buxton can stay healthy (which has always been an issue for him in the past).

In what felt like moments after the Buxton news broke, it was reported that Marcus Semien, previously on the Blue Jays, would also be signing a seven-year deal. Only this deal would be worth $175 million, and with the Texas Rangers, who finished last in the AL West in 2021:

While Semien’s deal doesn’t necessarily affect teams in the AL Central directly, it does change the dynamic in the division, as Semien would have been a good fit in the middle infield in either Chicago or Detroit, both teams looking to spend and upgrades as well (second base specifically for the White Sox; either position for Detroit).

Thus, with these moves made, what kind of impact does that have in the division and consequently the Royals in 2022?

The Buxton deal is probably the most glaring one to talk about, and one that Royals fans should notice the most.

The Royals were able to finish a game ahead of the Twins in the division standings last year, but prior to 2021, the Twins were head and shoulders above the Royals from 2018 to 2020. However, the Twins started to ship off some of their talented players last year, as they traded Nelson Cruz to the Rays and Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays around the Trade Deadline (in addition to non-tendering Eddie Rosario before the start of the 2021 season). Thus, with the initial failure to sign Buxton to an extension, it was thought that the Twins were going to embrace a “rebuilding” season in 2022, which seemed like a good sign for the Royals and other teams in the Central division.

However, with Buxton back, the Twins don’t seem to be fully embracing that “rebuilding” mindset. Granted, do I imagine that they will acquire many free agents after this deal? Probably not, especially with an albatross deal like Josh Donaldson’s on the payroll that really limits what they can do. However, the Twins’ payroll is currently at $92 million, and I could see them making a couple of one to two-year deals on free-agent pitchers to help boost their rotation, as well as their bullpen (though their starting pitching needs the most work at this time).

As for the Semien deal, the biggest losers from him signing with the Rangers are the White Sox, who would have benefited from him solidifying their middle infield with Tim Anderson. The White Sox traded Nick Madrigal to the Cubs in the Craig Kimbrel deal at the Trade Deadline, and right now, the White Sox really don’t have a lot of good options internally to fill in at the keystone position. As of this moment, it seems like it will be a battle between rookie Romy Gonzalez and bench infielder Danny Mendick, according to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource Depth Charts. For a team with World Series aspirations, that might not get it done, especially considering the issue for the White Sox a year ago was production at the end of the lineup.

With Semien off the market, I imagine the White Sox will be aggressive in pursuing a middle infield option. For the White Sox, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a push for someone in the coming days, even if he isn’t as “high profile” as Semien. The White Sox know that their window to compete is now, especially with the Central division down. While I think Carlos Correa will sign with either Houston or Detroit and Javy Baez may be out of their price range, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the White Sox perhaps make a push for Chris Taylor or even Trevor Story in the coming week.

So how do these moves impact the Royals themselves? Honestly, the Royals are still in a good spot, and though Royals fans may be getting impatient, they are doing the right thing by staying out of the “hot stove” talk for now.

The Royals are in a solid situation payroll-wise at a projected $86 million, which puts them in the lower third of the league. While I know some fans would like to see the club spend more, I also believe spending money just to “spend” isn’t always the most successful strategy. Right now, while last-place teams like the Texas Rangers and even Miami Marlins (who spent $54 million for Avisail Garcia) are spending money in the free-agent market, I am not necessarily sure if those moves really move the needle for those clubs next season, just like I believe that those moves wouldn’t do much for the Royals either.

Right now, the focus of this Royals team this offseason is and should be, on preparing the team for 2023 and 2024.

By that time, Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez will have at least have a decent amount of Major League games under their belt. A few of the Royals’ talented young pitchers will have emerged as dependable options in the rotation going forward. Mike Minor and Carlos Santana will be off the payroll. Spending money on some “mid-tier” free agents isn’t going to help this club be a playoff team in 2022 or even 2023. The path to relevancy for this Royals team in the next two to three years will be the development of their top prospects, especially in the upper minors. And right now, after the gains made by prospects in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, the Royals and Royals fans have to be feeling hopeful about what this club can do in the near future.

It isn’t easy to see players like Buxton get signed to big deals and see Semien sign with a team that was actually worse than Kansas City a year ago. Buxton is a legitimate talent, sure, but his health could either make this deal a steal or a huge waste of money. And as for Semien? This could be another A-Rod situation where the Rangers pay big money for a free agent who only makes a “minimal” impact on the club. Honestly, it’s hard to see the Rangers passing anyone in the AL West division at this time, even with the addition of Semien.

The Royals are playing the hot stove the right way, and that is in a conservative fashion. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo wait until the last week or two leading up to the start of Spring Training to make a deal, as they may find someone that fits their payroll and is desperate to sign (which could be heightened should this lockout persist longer than expected). History has shown that Moore has either been aggressive early in the offseason or waits until right up to Spring Training to make deals. With the market so hot, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Moore prefer the latter this time around.

And that isn’t a bad thing. The Royals’ success in 2022 will depend on players already on the roster or within the organization. Any free agent or player acquired via trade will only be to “round” things out on the roster, and that is good for the flexibility of this Royals roster going forward.

Remember, Witt, Jr. isn’t on the 40-man roster yet…

When he is added to the 40-man, he will have more of an impact (and be of a better value) than any free agent, honestly.

And I think Moore and the Royals front office realize that.

Thus, Royals fans need to prepare for a “tame” hot stove season in Kansas City.

2023 and 2024 will be a lot more active.

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

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